To Flash or Not to Flash

Ever since the first commercial web pages appeared on the internet there has been a demand for moving graphics and multimedia presentations. The now famous HTML (the stuff web pages are made of) just wasn’t up to the job. Macromedia Inc., having had plenty of experience in Multimedia presentations, developed their "Director" program. They then gave away free a flash plugin to enable web browsers to view these presentations.

Flash adds an extra dimension to web pages - time. You can just sit back and watch while a presentation opens in front of you; words and phrases, small images, photographs and even sound effects. But more than just sitting back and watching, it is interactive so you can control the direction of the presentation. It’s a cross between a web page and a video game!

How is it done? - it works on an entirely different principal from web pages, whose graphics are bitmaped or represented by thousands of dots. In Flash the information is vectorial, that is to say mathematical formulas, which means much more can be downloaded in a shorter period of time.

Take a look at some of the following websites from AM advertisers to see what can be done with flash.
Cartier uses flash to display a selection of handbags - a great example of how flash is used to display products.
Here some of the introduction sequences are a spectacular waste of bandwidth. You can view some watches, alter the colour, even play with the buttons and set the time. Might be the closest many of us gets to a Rolex watch!

With flash sounding so good why are we not using it all the time? Firstly the presentations are more costly and time consuming to create than an ordinary web pages. Also make flash work on your web browser a special program is needed called a flash plug in – most people have this but not everybody. Any recently installed Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator should have the flash plug in already.

If you don’t have flash installed then all you need to do is visit and download the free Flash plugin. Actually this is not quite as easy as it sounds as you have to navigate your way through many distractions and other programs and promotions to find it. Many people are unwilling to download flash, fearful for it having adverse effects on their computer.

This means that if your web page relies on flash there will be a proportion of people who will not be able to view it. However small this proportion it may be potential clients lost. You must consider carefully whether this loss is outweighed by the gain due to the modern image created by using flash on your website.

A robust solution problem is to construct two versions of your site. Unfortunately this will add to the expense and the design time and make later updates more complicated.

A good alternative is to do an optional flash introductory sequence. Typically this will be a company profile or product presentation . This can be interesting to watch and will not be a barrier to those who don’t have flash installed.

One can also use elements of flash within any web page, rather like special images. This technique can be used to good effect. Sound advice would be not to use flash for navigation buttons without providing an alternative. This way anybody without flash can at least navigate the website.

Don’t forget sometimes people only want a specific piece of information from your website. Don’t force them to wait for a presentation to take its course. Remember the first time you see a presentation it can be eye catching and impressive. But the second time it can be a time consuming obstacle and the third time, without an early exit route it can be just annoying.